When SPARKS Fly: An Interview with Runner Abigail Sparks
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with our readers information about who you are and your running journey.
UMM: I understand that you ran the St. Luke’s Half Marathon in Allentown, PA on Sunday, April 26, 2015 with the Strides for Hope team in honor of your dad. Give us a little backstory on that.
Abby: Yes, Sunday’s St. Luke’s race was my 11th half marathon! I returned to the Strides for Hope team this year. I ran my very first half marathon with them in 2013! Strides for Hope is a team that fundraises for the Cancer Support Community of Lehigh Valley. They provide cancer support to people stricken with cancer as well as their family and loved ones. I lost my dad to cancer in 2008 to lung cancer. I run for him because he loved running (not that he was a runner by any stretch of the imagination, but he loved watching the sport). I grew up in New York and Marathon Sunday for the NYC Marathon was a national holiday in my house. My dad was a NYC bus operator and drove EVERY Marathon Sunday so he could interact with the runners and bring home bagels, bananas, apples and foil blankets (I had no idea what they were as a kid) and load the dining room table with them. My love for running comes from that so I run for him! The Cancer Support Community is a wonderful organization and I love having the opportunity to raise funds for such a great cause!
UMM: There are people who run a few 5 & 10K’s here and there…maybe a half marathon and never have the desire to run again. You, on the other hand, are entirely on the other end of the spectrum. Who is your inspiration and what keeps you motivated to keep going?
Abby: At the heart of it both my mom and dad are my inspiration. My mom watches and celebrates my running journey and appreciates that I keep fitness at the forefront to battle medical obstacles that I face. That keeps me motivated to lace up and hit the pavement again and again. I have 3 daughters that are amazing runners and watching them is such a joy. I can’t but be inspired by them! I also have several runner friends that double as accountability partners to keep me on track.
UMM: Are you a member of any running groups? How has being a member helped you with your journey?
Abby: I am a member of some really cool organizations that are doing tremendous work to promote healthy active lifestyles in this country. I am a former ambassador and very active member of Black Girls Run, a member and current ambassador of Chics That Run, a member of Lehigh Road Runners, New York Road Runners and National Black Marathoners (to name a few). I have met amazing people in each of these organizations that have helped shape and grow me as a runner and continue to do so. One person who is now a great friend remained with me every step of the way as I completed my first marathon last year and has been at most of my races running along side me if I needed her.
UMM: How many marathons have you run and did you ever think you ever would let alone finish?
Abby: I have run 2 full marathons (yes that’s 26.2 miles) both in 2014 and am planning to run several more! I never in my wildest dreams thought I would run one let alone finish one. I remember days where I thought for sure I was going to die after running 2 miles. I am still amazed!
UMM: Hands down, what is your best race and why?
Abby: My best race hands down is the St. Luke’s Half Marathon because of what it represents in my run journey, but also because it is a great course, with beautiful scenery and the post race food is amazing! (I am a foodie and a sucker for good food!)
UMM: Back when I was training for my one and only half marathon and looking for running shoes, my nephew Matt, who’s a runner, told me “Auntie Stella, your shoes should make you feel like you’re running on a cloud”. Best advice I’d ever received.
Out of the hundreds of running shoes on the market, what shoe works best for you and do you choose a particular brand / style of shoe dependent upon the race distance?
Abby: I always say I have the funkiest feet ever created (thanks to my dad too!) I have flat feet with a collapsed arch in my left foot and I overpronate (meaning my foot strikes the ground and rolls). I spend a lot of time finding the right shoe for me. I need a stability shoe with a bit of motion control. I am not brand loyal, but can only wear a few brands. I can deviate a bit to a lighter, less aggressive shoe for shorter runs, but only after years of training my foot to do so. Currently my favorite and most reliable shoe is made by Brooks, the adrenaline model. And I agree with your nephew Matt, they feel like I’m running on a cloud as they should!
UMM: Do you perform any superstitious rituals on the day of a big race?
Abby: I do! I wake up an hour before I leave and eat the exact same breakfast on race day, a half of a bagel with peanut butter and a banana. My husband has been known to make a midnight run to the store the night before one of my races if any of these items are not in the house!
UMM: If you don’t want to talk about this I totally understand. You have AD (Autoimmune Disease). Can you share with our readers what that is and if it has hindered your running journey in any way?
Abby: I definitely would love to share my story. It motivates me to keep running towards as healthy a me as possible! In 2009, I was diagnosed with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD). MCTD is an overlap of several autoimmune diseases including lupus, scleroderma and polymyositis. When I was diagnosed, my rheumatologist took a very non-traditional approach to my treatment. He recommended that I remain active, even increase activity and monitor my diet and food trigger as well as use natural supplements. I have had great success in controlling the disease although occasionally I do have flare-ups that hinder running and subject me to injury. I listen to my body and crosstrain with activities like yoga and cycling to remain healthy so that I can get back to the pavement and what I love to do, run!
UMM: Finally, what advice can you share with our readers who are on the fence about becoming a runner?
Abby: If someone is on the fence about running I say, fear not! Find a local run club or group or running store and just GO! Join a beginner group run and go. Take it slow, gradually increasing distance. Even when it feels like your body won’t go any further, IT WILL! Growing as a runner requires discipline and consistency over time. And remember a huge part of running in mental stamina, when your legs won’t want to move, your heart will!
There you have it! Not only is Abigail Sparks a SPARK THAT FLIES, she’s also a BLACK GIRL THAT ROCKS!